Monday, October 12, 2015

Family's 3 Tragedies Due to Carbolic Acid

My family has a handful of photos of my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Baker Klein (1855-1932), posing at various times outdoors when she was in her 60s and 70s. She doesn't look like a particularly warm or friendly woman (though it's hard to tell from those old photos!), and there's only one photo where her eyes seem to sparkle a little. But after learning more about her, I can look at these photos a little differently and with admiration that she found the strength to get through a very dark period in her life.

Mary and the Baker branch of my family tree had to deal with the tragedy of carbolic acid poisoning three times. Carbolic acid was used as a disinfectant and sometimes was accidentally ingested which caused death. According to the following newspaper article, this is what happened to Irene Kaufmann, the daughter of one of the men who ran the famous Kaufmann's department store in Pittsburgh. She thought she was taking "headache medicine."

The Pittsburgh Post, July 24, 1907

In the case of my relatives, the poisoning appears to have been intentional. Young Mary and her family moved from Canada to the United States around 1866 and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mary married Jacob Klein 10 years later and had 11 children. During a 3-year period in the 1910s, Mary and her siblings had to mourn the deaths of three family members due to carbolic acid poisoning:

  • Mary's brother, John H. Baker, died on March 15, 1912 at the age of 38 in Braddock, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. His death certificate says simply, "suicide by taking carbolic acid."
  • Mary's nephew and the son of her sister Sushannah, Albert Parrish Jr., died the same year on September 13, 1912. Sadly, his second child had just been born the previous year. A newspaper article and the coroner's report indicate that he was despondent due to lack of employment as a chain maker. His death certificate states his cause of death was "carbolic acid poisoning, suicide while temporarily insane."
  • Mary's brother-in-law, James H. Stuart, who was married to her sister Sarah Baker, died on May 21, 1915. His death certificate indicates that he was found in Braddock in a box car of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad and that the cause of death was "carbolic acid poisoning (probably suicide)."

It must have been extremely difficult for Mary and her family to deal with such terrible tragedies so, when I look at photographs of her now, I see a woman of great strength.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like depression ran in the family. That is a terrible way to die...


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